This year, unlike every year for the past decade or so, I will be home for the holidays but not ‘home’ for the holidays. Unlike every year, when I pack my bags and book my tickets for a November departure to south India to spend the holidays with my parents, siblings and extended family, this year I will remain in my home in the southwest United States, holidaying with my husband, the only family I have here, apart from our beautiful chosen family of dear friends.
And even that holiday celebration will possibly not be in person given the global pandemic that still has us in its clutches. And so, a virtual holiday it will be, with distance not so much the factor that will affect us the most, as will be the inability to hug and kiss our loved ones and share happy banter across a supper table filled with food, love, laughter and good cheer. And then seeing them again the next day for a repeat performance of the same.
Growing up in India, the year-end holiday season was, well, one truly long holiday. India has more than 20 national holidays (these include government-recognized and religious holidays) along with every state in the country observing its own regional holidays. Needless to say, the last quarter of the year and heading into the new year presented opportunities aplenty for celebration.
For Diwali, colorful and intricate rangoli decked the neighborhood as sweets were exchanged while the evening sky and the streets lit up with fireworks of all shapes, forms and colors. For Christmas, there’d be plenty of carol singing to be heard all around, much of it in Tamil, the state language. Fruit cakes, custards and puddings, and a variety of homemade cookies filled our homes and hearts. And if it was a year that Eid occurred in that last quarter then that was just a festival trifecta everyone looked forward to.
Raised in Oman during my formative years, where a large Indian population resides, holiday celebrations were an extension of everything we’d do in India but one notch down. Much as Oman is an Islamic nation, Indian religious holidays and other festivals were observed by Indian nationals that called the country home. Parties at friends’ residences would entail an evening of food and fun, with Indian sweet and savory dishes being the main attraction.
Typically held potluck style, we’d get to savor a family recipe for a popular dish ranging from biryani and a plethora of vegetable side dishes to slurp up with roti on the savory side to rasmalai, barfi, gulab jamun and more on the sugary end of that spectrum. Decorations for Diwali, Christmas and Eid would go up in store fronts and I still have fond memories of running behind Santa at a local department store, so we’d get the little gift giveaways he’d handout to kids from his red sack.
Moving to America as an adult, those holiday celebrations took another form. Still celebrated with friends and potlucks, with the addition of Thanksgiving and New Year’s as major celebrations just as well. While those weren’t holidays that we traditionally celebrated, many friends opened their homes to us and shared their tables knowing we didn’t have family here to spend those holidays with.
From a Vietnamese Thanksgiving lunch to one on a farm somewhere in Illinois, a multicultural Christmas celebration to a beautifully organized formal dinner, we’ve had the pleasure of partaking in these celebrations to our hearts’ content with loved ones in America. New Year’s was welcomed with cheers breaking out in a friend’s backyard or at the beach and in the mountains on one of many road trips and other travels undertaken with our adopted posse of friends from many different cultures and nationalities.
To me, celebrating the holidays this year, away from home and family but also distanced from friends that are so close yet so far (given social distancing and safety considerations), will be clothed in yet another variation of years past. There will be laughter and good cheer and friendly banter but through our personal devices and third-party apps. We will see each other celebrating and reminisce the days we were together, plotting for the next chance we can meet in-person again and present warm hugs with our good wishes. But for now, here’s wishing you and yours good health and happiness in the safety of your home from this here home of mine.
Family recipe: As is many times the case, this dessert recipe was passed on among relatives of the family as an oral tradition and thus, is unnamed. We refer to it as egg sweet (how original) and so it shall remain.
Makes 8-16 squares depending on your generous cutting skills!
5-6 large eggs
1 can of condensed milk
1 tablespoon of butter or ghee
Butter to grease the baking tray
(Note: A square baking tray is best but a round one means pie-shaped pieces – your call)
- In a large whisking bowl, beat together the eggs and condensed milk until well combined.
- In a saucepan, heat the butter or ghee just until melted. Add in the above mixture
- Cook until it takes on the consistency of scrambled eggs. Expect a little bit of browning.
- Heat the oven to 350. Grease a baking tray ready for when your mixture is all cooked.
- Layer the mixture onto the baking tray and bake in oven for 15-20 minutes.
- The top will brown a tad bit and the mixture will come together, maybe even rising some.
- Your dessert is done when a toothpick or fork is inserted and comes out clean.
- Remove the tray and allow to cool. Cut in squares or other desired shape and serve.
- Garnish with slivered or chopped almonds or some powdered pistachio.
Optional: You can include a splash of rose water or a few strands of saffron for a richer taste.